Switzerland’s 2012 Oscar submission for best foreign film, More than Honey, is a movie about beekeeping, which sounds cheery enough.
Veteran film, theatre and opera director, Markus Imhoof, who narrates the film in German, uses state-of-the-art high-speed cameras and microlenses to take us inside the world of the bees, the amazing social insects that Shakespeare called “singing masons building roofs of gold.”
These intimate images of bees in flight or busy in their hives serve as the film’s honey and, eventually, Imhoof eventually delivers the sting: Modern agriculture is dependent on the domesticated honey bee to a degree that threatens the future of both bees and humans.
The film’s journey takes us to North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, where bee populations are in crisis. Scientists and farmers are struggling to understand and solve the problem of “colony collapse disorder” where bee colonies disappear or suddenly die in large numbers. (“I’m getting real comfortable with death on an epic scale,” says California apiarist, John Miller).
Pesticides, modern shipping methods, a lack of genetic diversity and parasites are all possible contributors to the calamity. A pathetic scene in northern China shows farmers attempting to pollinate flowers by hand because the bee population was killed off by pesticides under Maoist central planning.
Some hope is offered in the form of the 1970s bugaboo known as “killer bees” or hybridized Africanized honey bees, which are less manageable but also hardier than their European cousins.
Imhoof softens the film’s urgency with his digressive, stop-and-smell-the-roses approach, including an educational segment on the bee’s life cycle that recalls elementary school science classes. For patient science-minded kids and adults, it should find the sweet spot between environmental advocacy and visual pleasure.